Washington Metro to begin Random Searches of Riders’ Bags

Posted on June 7, 2011


The Washington Metro plans to begin random searches of its riders’ bags  in the coming days, the transit agency said Thursday, revisiting a plan first  announced two years ago.

Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn said the coordinated  effort with the Transportation Security Administration was not in response to a  specific threat but was part of a continuing effort to keep the system safe from  explosives. Boston, New York and New Jersey transit officials do similar  searches, according to the agency.

Metro officials would not specify when the first  searches will begin, how long they will last, which locations will be targeted  or how many riders’ bags will be searched. The agency planned to start alerting  riders with pamphlets and station announcements on Thursday afternoon.

But riders immediately started to sound off against  the plan.

David Alpert, who serves on the agency’s Riders’  Advisory Council and writes the Greater Greater Washington blog, called it  “security theater” that wastes money without stopping terrorists. He said such  resources could be better spent having more officers and dogs patrol the  system.

“Riders are already frustrated with Metro right now,”  Alpert said. “Doing something that’s just going to frustrate riders is  absolutely the wrong approach.”

Metro announced two years ago that it would conduct  searches but never did any after riders and their advocates complained.

Metro officials would not say what prompted them to  revisit the policy now, denying that the recent arrests of two men on separate  allegations of threatening the subway system had anything to do with the timing.

It’s an added a layer of protection we can add at  this time,” Taborn said. “It’s another tool in our toolbox.”

The officers will try to “minimize inconvenience to  riders,” General Manager Richard Sarles said, with brief inspections of randomly  selected riders.

This time, though, the bags will be searched for  hazardous materials using ionization technology and explosive-sniffing K-9  units. The earlier proposal involved officers opening riders’ bags and looking  inside them. But bags will be not be opened unless they are deemed to need  further inspection. Furthermore, Metro officials said, the equipment and dogs  are looking for explosives and will not be looking for guns or drugs.

“It won’t cost us anything,” Taborn said, saying that  the agency already has officers, dogs and equipment through homeland security  grants. He did acknowledge printing costs for the pamphlets but could not pin  down a cost.

Taborn said the screenings would not take more than  about a minute and a half. “We don’t want to create a bottleneck. We don’t want  to eliminate the mass in mass transit.”